The revolution in information technology (IT) has set in motion momentous changes in the socioeconomic structure, changes that are taking place on a global scale. Affecting individuals, corporations, and society as a whole, these changes are brimming with what might be called "digital opportunity."
Bringing freedom from the constraints of space and time, the IT Revolution will make it possible for people around the world to access information and communicate with each other at any time and place, and will thereby enrich our quality of life. In addition, it will furnish new tools that allow the aged and disabled to lead independent lives and participate actively in society. For corporations, the IT Revolution is opening up opportunities for reinforcing competitiveness and generating new industries and business. The IT Revolution has the potential to usher in sustainable economic development, expanded employment opportunities, and regional revitalization by providing tools to resolve issues associated with low birthrates, the aging of the population, and geographical handicaps. Prosperity in the 21st century may very well hinge on our efforts to promote the IT Revolution and make the benefits available to all individuals and corporations.
By its very nature, the IT Revolution is crossing national borders and accelerating the globalization of socioeconomic activities. If it is to achieve genuine success, "digital opportunity" will have to be made available to people around the world through wide-ranging international cooperation centered around the Group of Eight (G8) countries. For this reason, the adoption of the IT Revolution as a major topic of the Kyushu-Okinawa Summit Meeting in July of this year is a welcome development.
As the chair of the Summit Meeting, Japan must exercise leadership by striving to lay a solid foundation for the promotion of the IT Revolution and its global success. To this end, Japan itself must make a prompt and definite commitment to actively utilize IT, aiming to make the nation the world's most advanced center of "digital opportunity" and the driving hub of the IT Revolution. Japan also must make efforts to ensure that the benefits of the IT Revolution spread throughout the world.
Business and government each has an extremely vital role to play in the promotion of the IT Revolution. Amid intensifying competition, corporations must make maximum use of "digital opportunity" and lead the IT Revolution. It is particularly important for them to re-engineer their business processes with a view to bolstering their competitive strength and breeding new industries and businesses. The government, on the other hand, must engage in the critical task of preparing an environment that will make the fruits of the IT Revolution fully available to all of Japan as well as the rest of the world.
In pursuit of that goal, Keidanren hereby proposes the following approaches to the government of Japan.
The Japanese government should accelerate approaches aimed at making Japan the site of the world's most advanced IT-related corporate activities. This would furnish individuals, corporations, and society as a whole with bigger and better "digital opportunity," while at the same time ensuring economic vitalization and structural reform.
An environment should be cultivated that is conducive to the use of the information and telecommunications infrastructure.
Rules and other provisions should be created that reflect the characteristics of electronic commerce.
IT capabilities need to be reinforced.
Measures that help to ensure information security need to be enhanced.
The assurance of an adequate level of information security is indispensable for the steady progress of the IT Revolution. The agenda in this area includes the prompt revamping of laws and regulations related to matters such as electronic signature and certification, as well as closer collaboration between governmental institutions and private corporations in devising countermeasures against hackers and cyber terrorism. Cooperation among industry, academia, and government should be fostered in the area of research and development in order to increase the level of information security. This is particularly important when it comes to national security issues.
IT is a very effective tool for effecting governmental administrative reform. As the supplier of administrative services and the biggest user of networks, the government should make active use of IT, employing it as means to increase the efficiency of its business, achieve a wider disclosure of governmental information, and improve its services.
The establishment of e-Government requires, first and foremost, concrete and clear targets in terms of efficiency, disclosure, and service quality improvement. Proper evaluation of the progress being made is also essential. The government must also promote an intensification of information systems that cross agency boundaries, for both internal operations and interfaces with the private sector. Plans with just such an aim need to be drawn up, and those plans should be long term in scope. It is particularly important for central and local governments to join in integrated approaches on this front.
The government should also strive to adapt technological innovations and reduce administrative costs by incorporating technology that ensures interoperability and by outsourcing work to the private sector.
With the progress of the IT Revolution, proficiency in the use of information networks is coming to constitute a basic required skill. The improvement of information literacy is critical for upgrading the quality of life. Japan must aspire to build a society in which all persons of all generations - regardless of differences of income, age, education, geography, or physical limitations - as well as all corporations, come to realize that "digital opportunity" exists and they need to take full advantage of it. A prerequisite for building such a society is an increase in information literacy, which should be accorded an importance on a par with the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic.
The government must make arrangements immediately that facilitate the use of the Internet at any time by educational institutions on all levels, from primary and secondary education to lifelong education. In addition, education must emphasize familiarity with and active use of information networks. Related programs should include thorough instruction in the ethics governing network use. It will also be necessary to make full provisions for so-called information training for teachers, in order to raise their level of skill as well as to outsource information instruction to experts and instructors attached to corporations or non-profit organizations.
For the aged and disabled, IT can expand opportunities that lead to a self-supporting life and greater participation in society. To derive such effects, however, the maximum use of private-sector energies will be required, in order to develop technology and equipment that are easy to use and to supply content designed for the visually or aurally impaired.
The IT Revolution provides an opportunity for sustainable economic growth on a global scale in the 21st century. While the IT Revolution will proceed under private-sector leadership,, achieving such growth will require political initiative to solidify the foundation for the worldwide sharing of "digital opportunity," as well as unimpeded access to all kinds of information by all people through information networks.
In this area, the Japanese government should work in close cooperation with the other G8 and concerned countries, particularly in the following areas.
It is imperative that an environment be created that will allow the entire world to enjoy the fruits of the IT Revolution through the dynamism of market competition. To this end, market-led standardization should be promoted to ensure interoperability across national borders. Control of the international movement of information on private individuals should be left to the autonomous restraints of private corporations.
It is also essential to achieve international harmonization and reciprocal recognition of all sorts of rules governing electronic commerce in areas such as electronic signature and certification, jurisdiction, and ADR. Regarding the imposition of taxes on electronic commerce, there is a need for international rules that are grounded in the principles of fairness, neutrality, and simplicity. Arrangements for business-method patents will require both international harmonization in respect to the conditions for invention, as well as agreement on appropriate examinations of novelty and progressiveness, so that the patents do not hinder corporate IT activities.
Authorities must also redouble efforts to build an international framework of cooperation to fight high-tech crime.
In this international effort to condition the surrounding environment, it will be important for government and business to work together when constructing global partnerships and making rules. Keidanren is prepared to make an active contribution to this end.
As the IT Revolution effects sweeping socioeconomic changes worldwide, many developing countries are being faced with the reality that they lack an adequate core infrastructure of information-communication networks and the elements that underpin it. In many cases, they are also saddled with a shortage of the skills needed to make full use of networks. This situation is precarious, and it fills many people with apprehensions that this "digital divide" may work to widen the North-South economic gap.
On the other hand, the "digital opportunity" afforded by the IT Revolution has the potential to change this fear into hope. IT can catalyze the economic advancement of developing countries and shrink North-South economic gaps in the process.
To help replace the "digital divide" with "digital opportunity" around the world, the Japanese government should make every effort to contribute to the establishment of a global information community, one ushered in by the free flow of information of all kinds. At the Kyushu-Okinawa Summit, the Japanese government should exercise leadership by pushing for the preparation of an action plan that encourages global participation in the IT Revolution.
At the same time, the Japanese government must redouble its own programs that aim at the expansion of "digital opportunity" in developing countries, as well as emphasize IT in its economic development policies. The government should seek to apply various policy measures systematically, striving to match particular measures with the particular needs of the developing countries in question. More specifically, matters such as the construction of connectable information-communication networks and the development of human resources through instruction in information systems should be made priority themes in Japan's official development assistance (ODA). The field of telecommunications accounted for only 2.2 percent of Japan's total ODA in 1998, and its share has been declining. It is essential that Japan strive to reverse this trend, and in the process help to narrow the North-South "digital divide." Policy for development in the areas of education, medical services, sanitation, and the preservation of cultural assets also ought to encourage IT utilization. To improve information literacy in developing countries, the government should facilitate the independent endeavors of Japanese corporations. Additionally, the government should support the smooth integration of developing countries into the world of global electronic commerce.
In terms of other Asian countries - with which it has deep economic ties - Japan should cooperate closely with them, to ensure the conformity of various rules concerning IT-related corporate activities. An exemplary action in this area would be the establishment of a multilateral certification scheme for electronic signature and certification provisions. Any consideration of free-trade agreements with other Asian countries should involve an effective IT investment regime as a priority item. Japan's primary focus in the region must be to stimulate the spread of the IT Revolution and to cultivate stronger partnerships in the linguistically diverse region through international activities and collaborative efforts at the corporate level.
If Japan is to evolve into a country with an abundance of "digital opportunity" and make an important contribution to the rest of the world, the government must mount a comprehensive and strategically minded effort that crosses agency boundaries and unites all official institutions in a concerted action. It also must respond flexibly and rapidly to the fast-paced changes in the IT field without undue adherence to precedent approaches.
To this end, political leadership is a critical factor. The government should institute the post of chief information officer (CIO), to be filled by a minister whose status would be on the order of the deputy prime minister. In addition, a special department with permanent staff should be organized to support the CIO. Individuals from the private sector should be utilized as staff members in that new department. Through these measures, the government will be able to reinforce and step up activities aimed at fomenting the emergence of a society in which people in Japan and all other countries are able to recognize and take advantage of practical "digital opportunity."